tv This Week With George Stephanopoulos ABC May 19, 2013 9:00am-10:00am EDT
starting with the strategist at the center of white house damage control, adviser dan pfeiffer. thanks for coming back to "this week." >> thanks for having me. you and others have said that no one in the white house knew about irs actions before getting the heads up on the inspector general report last month, are you absolutely sure of that? >> that's what we looked at. that's the first we heard of it. as has been said, the secretary was made aware as the investigation was beginning. no one in the white house was aware. what we actually knew, there was an investigation coming to a conclusion. not that we knew the results. >> until wednesday. last june, the deputy treasury secretary is told, as far as you know, he did not tell his boss treasury secretary tim geithner and hi didn't tell the white
house? >> that's correct. >> from the white house, to irs, or treasury, rob portman is coming up on the program and he's written a letter to president obama, wanting to know what if any private pressure was exerted by the white house or treasury department political appointees on the irs regarding the standards for approving monitoring tax-exempt organizations. particularly 501 c groups. >> take the word of the independent inspector general who said he found no evidence from outside the irs. >> you believe there are none? >> we're going to work with congress as the president said, in legitimate oversight, we're not going to participate in distracting from the real issues at hand. >> when senator portman is
asking for documents or e-mails you're not going to comply with that request? >> we'll look at any request that congress puts forward. >> but bottom line, no communications as far as you know from the white house to the irs. >> absolutely not. >> at the hearings on friday, the acting director, outgoing acting director of the irs, mr. miller was asked about the legality of targeting the special scrutiny of the conservative groups. here was the questioning. >> do you believe it is illegal for employees of the irs to create lists to target individual groups and citizens in this country? >> i think that the treasury inspector general indicated it might not be. >> what do you believe? >> i don't believe it is. i don't believe it should happen. >> what does the president believe? >> i can't speak to the law
here. the law is irrelevant. the activity needs the stopped. >> you don't mean that the law is irrelevant? >> it's not important to the fact that the conduct doesn't matter. the department of justice said they're looking into the legality of this. the president isn't going to wait for that. >> going forward, there are going to be real questions about what kind of impact this is going to have on the rest of the president's agenda. sarah hall is now overseeing the treasury department's oversight of the president's health care plan, that's raised a lot of questions, among republicans on capitol hill, they say that she, given her previous experience, is exactly the wrong person to be overseeing obama care. your response? >> they're going to do a top-down review, anyone who did
anything wrong is held accountable. to date, this individual you're referring to, is not mentioned in the report. let's get the facts before we indict this person in the court of public opinion. >> she did nothing wrong. so the president believes that she can fulfill his role on health care? >> let's get facts first. >> on capitol hill, given the irs' extensive responsibility for overseeing the health care law, this experience with the tax-exempt organizations calls that oversight into question? >> george, i think the question for both republicans and democrats are we going to come together to solve the problem? republicans are still very angry that obama care is law. they tried to use this as an excuse to -- to try to repeal obama care. let's actually solve the
problem. >> you have no question about the irs' ability to oversee, their responsibility to oversee the obama care. >> no. the new acting commissioner, he starts next week, he's going to do a top-down review. let's move on the benghazi, detailing communications with government agencies over what was happening in the days and weeks after the attack on benghazi. something that jay carney said about this back in november the kind of changes that the white house and the state department were responsible for in those now infamous talking points. >> they have made clear, the single adjustment that was made in those talking points, by these two institutions were changing the word consulate to diplomatic facility. because consulate was inaccurate. >> the e-mails you release show a host of communication indicating that the changes were far more extensive.
>> the e-mail showed three things. this is very important. they undermined all of the allegations that republicans have been making for months about this. the draft of talking points include, written by the cia, include reference to the protest here. second, references to al qaeda and terrorism were not taken out by the white house as republicans have asserted but taken out by the cia. third, everyone here was trying to get it right the best we could and the primary driving objective for the cia and state department, to ensure we did nothing that interfeared with the investigation of the people who did this. >> it also does show that the changes were more extensive than changing the word from consulate to diplomatic facility. >> the republican allegation that the white house, the state department, someone else changed the cia's assessment for
political reason is without a shadow of a doubt false. republicans talking about this. they have seen the e-mails owe ambassador rice an apology. >> an apology for what? >> for accusing her for misleading the country. saying that she didn't -- that somehow we were -- she was involved in some sort of political white wash there. what she said, was what the intelligence community believed at the time. >> finally, as you look forward in trying to get the rest of the president's agenda in the remaining 3 1/2 years he has in office, you have seen the harsh words from republican leaders talking a about the arrogance of the white house, the culture of intimidation according to marco rubio and a respected political writer points out that this is growing to trust in government. an article in the paper today.
what happens today, as a result of the multiple controversies that have engulfed the administration one is clear -- president obama has failed to meet one of the most important goals he set out to achieve. it appears they have driven trust in government even further down, how does the president turn that around? >> well, there is no question what happened in the irs was a breach in trust. that's what the president is doing. he took decisive action. and we're going to make sure that this never happens again. since the president has taken off, he has taken serious steps to make government more transparent. when problems arise, how do we address it? in the irs we're taking decisive action. >> dan pfeiffer, thanks very much. >> thank you, george. how will congress respond?
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>> if this hearing becomes essentially a boot strap to continue the campaign, and to prepare for 2014, we'll be making a very, very serious mistake. >> that was the scene at the capitol on friday. senate finance committee holds its hearings this week. we're joined by two senators on that committee, rob portman and bob menendez from new jersey, tom price and charles rangel. let me begin with senator portman. the allegations have been looked at the white house, the inspector of the irs and this house committee has had its hearings. no one at the white house knew about the wrong doing in cincinnati. do you accept that first of all? and given that, what's the most important unanswered questions
at your hearing this week? >> well, george, first, we just don't know yet. there was an audit done by an inspector general. a bipartisan investigation is necessary. i also think that special counsel is going to end up being necessary here. what we do know politics was put ahead of the public interest. it was done in two of the most sensitive areas of our government. and second, our national security. second, look, i was one of the people that sent a letter, in march a year ago, what's going on here? we're hearing from all of these consecutive groups. there seems to be targeting. the irs apparently took a look at it. responded to our letter, indicated that there was no problem. unfortunately, they were informed of it and within a week of our letter being responded to, they actually had a briefing, the deputy
commissioner of the irs, of these problems. they never bothered to correct it. over a year later, they acknowledged it. a real concern here. david kamp just talked about putting politics ahead of the election. >> senator, but there has been an investigation in the house. have you seen any evidence that anyone outside of that cincinnati office and you're in cincinnati today, gave any kind of direction, political direction to the office? >> look, george, we just don't know. we do know that there was a california office involved. the washington office was very involved. so, it wasn't just the cincinnati office. i find it hard to believe that low-level employees here in ohio took it on themselves. and it went on for a couple of years without anyone knowing about it. we have information base on the
the report, the deputy commissioner of the irs was made aware of this, at least on may 3rd. he asked his folks to go to cincinnati to look into it on march 2012. so, it seems to me that there's a lot of issues here. we need to get bottom. we need to find out what really happened and regain trust in our government. that's my concern. >> senator menendez, a call for a special counsel, do you think that's necessary? >> look, even the chairman of the house oversight committee said you don't start accusing the irs until you have an independent deep dive. that's what the inspector did. since we have come to know what the inspector general has said heads have rolled. there's a leader at the agency. there are two scandals here.
we should look legislatively until we have to create screens and filters that they look in the future. second scandal, and that fact is, that hundreds of millions of dollars had been used in c-4s for political purposes. the irs went after small tea party groups. karl rove said that he's using these to change the outcome of the next election. >> two scandals. congressman price, you asked that question about whether the so-called targeting was illegal, have you seen any evidence that a crime was committed? >> we don't know yet as senator portman said. this is really chilling stuff, george. what was the content of their prayer, prayers, to determine whether or not to give them tax-exempt status? or what books they were riding.
this is just the beginning. what senator portman started with it, the report was an audit not an investigation. this is just the beginning of to process, we need to get to the bottom of this. who made those decisions. and hold them to account. >> do you think a special counsel is needed as well? >> i think it's premature to determine that. i believe the committees in the house and senate need to continue their investigation and who made these decisions. they don't make those kind of decisions. you know that. the american people know that. what needs to be restored is trust. >> congressman, rangel, extensive reporting in your lot newspaper "new york times," some of this information that the extent higher-ups in the irs were involved they actually ordered the cincinnati investigators to broaden their criteria not to single out the
tea party or any political bias there? >> the biggest problem there is, workers who work hard w all of this stigma being tax collectors, are getting a bad shake out of this. first of all, it is the law. senator menendez said that this law lends itself to abuse. i don't think that gang in cincinnati had the slightest clue as to finding out whether or not people making contributions were involved in politics or whether they were involved in social welfare. under the law, it's not just an exclusive thing. and people were abusing this law. whether they should have used this buzz words for conservati e conservatives or liberals. but the law has been abused every since it's been there. >> senator portman, how about that? are you concerned about that? real potential for abuse there
that had to be overseen. >> george, here's the point, we can talk about the laws ought to be changed. and yes, i'm for tax reform. the question is, was there an unbiased enforcement of the law? there was not. what's happening in cincinnati and unfortunately in other places in the country, including california and washington, d.c., there was a bias. we can complain about what the law says. this issue is about the enforcement of that law, the american people deserve to know that it's not being biased. it's even-handed. it's fair. in regards to tax contribution. by the way, earlier we heard some discussion from dan pfeiffer about whether the irs is the appropriate body now to look into obama care and he didn't sound very confident.
he said we'll have to look into that. to that point you made earlier about that article in the washington, post, big government was promised to deal with these issues to solve our problems, i think that's also being brought into question. >> do you believe it's appropriate for sarah hall ingram now overseeing the president's health care plan to remain in that position? >> well, we don't know enough yet. she apparently was at the ta tax-exempt office up until 2012. we need to find out why she was given promotions during that period and why she was promoted to another job to take care of even bigger responsibility. the irs is being asked to take on which is implementing obama care. george, i was involved in the
1990s and the irs reform. >> with all due respect to my colleague, it's not about changing the law it's about investigating the law that it's applied appropriately. hundreds of millions of dollars being used for political advocacy, people can get a tax break on that when they're not supposed to, that should be investigated as well. we don't need to change the law, we're talking about pursuing the law. my colleagues seem far more concerned about investigatinves. to have a dysfunctional congress. when you have a heritage foundation, don't bring a bipartisan bill to the floor because you're distract from these investigations. >> do you believe that the american people given what happened here, the irs is going to trust the irs oversight of
the president's health care plan? >> first of all, they have a part of the entire health care act and that oversight will be done by our respective committees as well as the labor committee. what's most important is not to have 37 votes in the house of representatives to repeal the president's health care law. 37 votes from stopping millions of young people on their parents' insurance. that didn't pursue any effort to improve health care in the nation. >> good attempt to change the subject. this is about trust. sarah hall ingram who was in charge of the tax-exempt division at the irs between 2009 and 2012 the exact time of this challenge and affront to the american people, is now in charge of instituting and determining whether or not the irs is doing the appropriate
things as it relates to the president's health care law. >> do you think she has to go? >> step back until we get to the bottom of this. >> congressman rangel? >> no republican agenda instead to stop the president of the united states. there's no evidence, that whatever went wrong it was known outside of cincinnati. they should have been better trained to deal with a very sensitive piece of legislation that was abused by the left and the right. >> gentlemen, thank you all very much. our powerhouse round table is up next. can obama escape that second-term curse? all business purchases. so you can capture your receipts, and manage them online with jot, the latest app from ink. so you can spend less time doing paperwork.
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peter baker of the "new york times" that president obama has a secret fantasy. letting it all hang out by the rapping senator played in the film. ♪ fake money ♪ is that really real the name of our game is let's make the deal ♪ >> don't hold your breath. is there a film that you would like to played out now? we'll be right back with the roundtable. zeleny zpel
impeachable crimes? >> find the president is guilty of any of these crimes. >> your credibility has been severely damage? can you repair it? >> i want to repair it. i didn't have anything to do with damaging it. >> we're not covering up or anything. we're opening up. >> how do you feel about comparisons by some of your criticses of this week's scandals that happened under the nixon administration? >> you can go ahead and read the history, i think, and draw your own conclusions. >> the president did not bite on those historical comparisons. we're joined by george will, katrina vanden heuvel, april ryan, jeff zeleny and ron
fournier. george, you heard echoes of watergate in the irs scandal, after the hearings and revelations do you still believe that? >> sure, it's the use of federal machinery. let's take a running leap into this. march 2012, the irs responding to rumors all over conservative movement and all over washington that conservative groups being targeted, assured the weighs and means committee that this was not true. two months later, they know that's not true. did they come back to the weighs and means committee? no, they did not. the number two men at treasury department are told about the targeting. did they respond in any way we know about yet? we don't know. that's why we have divided government. we're going to have hearings and we're going to find out. then on march 10th -- may 10th of this year, likewise learner
in an coincidence is asked a question at a conference about this, and she says yes it's been happening. this just in front of a report that's going to come out from the irs confirming that. this week, the acting commissioner, mr. miller, said that the irs was not corrupt in this it was just breathtaking incompetent. delivering horrible customer service. which, happened to fall dispror portion ately on conservatives. he said, i know these people that i did not know had political motives. >> we do know more than that. ron fournier, on two occasions, higher-ups at the irs went back to the cincinnati office and broaden out the criteria that this didn't seem fair. >> right. the problem with this scandal as it relates to the others, you
know, when you're in a position of government saying we're not corrupt just incompetent, that's a bad place to be. what unites all of these things, it undermines the credibility of the president and the competence of the government. that government can help us move forward now. trying to reverse this decades-long decline. let's stick on the irs for now. >> watergate, seriously, george, watergate was a scandal unique in its depth of criminality. you had the president directing the subversion of the agencies. i think the irs scandal is outrageous. the president has fired the acting head. the key scandal which you'll disagree with, we had after citizens united, a flood of
money coming in, and groups that were clearly political and partisan trying to use this categorization to escape political scrutiny. let's have an investigation. let's not call it watergate. >> i would only say that i brought watergate into this because the abuse of the irs was section 1, art ii of the articles of impeachment of richard nixon. >> it has been used by the kennedy administration and the nixon edadministration, but no evidence that the president or the white house knew of pressure. we must break open and have even-handed standards so that people, the congress and the fcc has failed. haven't had standards to abide by. >> they want to take these investigation going forward,
from your r0r9ing, what do you expect the senate finance committee is going to take? >> they'll get the first shot on this tuesday. douglas shulman a bush appointee the head of the irs, he has some questions to answer. >> he was the one who didn't divulge to the congress what was going on. >> members of the house and the cincinnati are upset that congress didn't -- they weren't fully informed, excuse me. it's not the issue whether congress was informed or not. the senate finance committee i'm told is still looking for irs employees, agents, who they're going to bring in and question. that's not going to happen. that's what we need to call at washington. >> april, the white house seems pretty confident in their assertions they're no
communication one way or another with the irs. >> yes, they do. everyone here knows this you have to present this strength and the fact that your heads were tied. even though the white house counsel knew about it a month ago, the president said he found out about it through media reports. one thing that the administration is trying to win the picture on this is friday night, they asked the new irs commissioner to embark on an investigation that will bring back information in 30 days. they're standing strong and saying, look, we had nothing to do with this. we're trying to move this forward. >> calls for special counsel from senator portman from congressman price, he's not quite there yet, do you see this as the next step or the congressional investigation is going to sufficient? >> definitely going to have a congressional invegs gags. if any hint that -- i
mean, a blind copy e-mail to the white house and this thing is really big. if after a thorough investigation, it stopped inside a poorly managed, it's just a severe problem for the president. >> sure. but let's start from the bottom up. let's find out that group in iowa, a right to life group, it was told that it would get its tax-exempt status if they didn't plan to picket planned parenthood. tennessee group said your entitlement to this status will be contingent upon you telling us the high school and college students that you trained to participate in politics. i want to find out -- >> in order to have even-handed application of irs standards, again, the federal election
commission, the congress, we need to have a set of standards, because these people in cincinnati, first of all, they also broaden it to nontea party conservative groups. you need to have a set of standards. our democracy is broken and this is a subset of that. sure, let's have investigations, but scandal is not an agenda and republicans are going to run just inhailing scandal without a sober-minded fact-finding mission on any of these issues. the real issue that predates this week, and is it a scandal? it's a scan doll some. the ap story, the fact this administration, picked up the baton of bush and failing to uphold what it promised. you can't be a situational civil libertarian, george.
listen, the press freedom record of this administration, this administration has prosecuted more people for leaks than any others. i think that's something many millions of people. they don't care about benghazi or the irs stories right now. >> let me take a step back. this is a transition. we found out that the justice department secretly was able to seize the phone records of the ap about 20 different phone lines at the a ap, involving hundreds of reporters in this leak investigation last year who was trying to get at who was d divulge the mole. ap subpoenas. ron fournier, you worked at the associated press for about 20 years. 20-something years. you made the point that you believe that the leak investigation actually has
potential to do more harm than the initial leak itself. >> no doubt about it. you heard dan pfeiffer early use as defense of the irs all of those republicans doing a fishing expedition. how can they talk about the fishing expedition. it intimidates whistle blowers. go, anybody out there watching this show, paying attention to this story, has to worry about their own records. if the doj is willing to go after the world's largest news agency -- what are they willing to do to you? your mother? this is scary. three, the reason is, really undermines national security. to explain what happened here the ap like news organizations for many decades when they find out about this story, they got in contact with the cia.
the government said that she this is dangerous. please don't put this information out. the ap as news organizations does, held off on this story. right? the cia never asked them to kill the story. very important to know. for five days the ap sat on the story, they took care of their asset. they said it's safe to run the story. they ran it. they needed an extra day. they wanted their pr plan to go in place. now, what happens is, other news organizations is going to be less trusting of the government. >> but, ron is right. it extends worldwide. we're the standard bearer of freedom of the press. suppressing information, they'll look to the united states, oh, well, president obama is doing that to their press we can do
it, too. ron is absolutely right. look, we're going too take your logs out, it's all about relationship and trust. and if those sources say, hey, i'm not going to do this because in fear of possible investigation or what have you, that's a problem for us to disseminate fact chul information. >> one of the reasons the ap should have been consulted. i think there's a strong case to be made that the white house or the justice department could have gone to a court and had them adjudicate it as well. on the other hand this was a very serious investigation and very serious leak. >> government has a right to some secrets. involving sources and methods of intelligence-gathering. as you said, the ap was extremely compliant here. in spite of the fact that the government wasn't following its own protocol. now, the administration says --
now we need another law, a shield law. this government has had a shield law since 1791 when the first amendment law -- >> the problem for all of us, this isn't directly linked to on oval office or the west wing. but, the bigger picture here is, this is all we talked about ux all week the president had probably nine months to get his agenda through. on capitol hill, it's scandal the only discussion here. this is a big problem in terms of undermining the trust of -- >> there is a related scandal. you're talking about the ap as we should know. the "new york times," where has the coverage been in these last few years? when you have seen sfieing on american muslim communities, on dissidents. patriot act passed through without much thought.
journalists allowed to be eves dropped on this isn't an apology for the obama government. so, there's a transpartisan problem. >> i'm glad you asked that question. what are the investigations into muslim communities? the associated press, investigation into profiling here in the city of muslim community, that same team, that same team was that the administration came to and said, please don't print this. oversaw two wars for the associated press. this isn't their first rodeo. >> that's right. >> the ap is never compliant. the ap is responsible. >> to hold -- >> the administration is denying this whole investigation is about that story, about al qaeda leak story. >> it's broader that.
george, jeff raises, i think you have a third of the committee investigating the administration, it seems the rest of the president's agenda is languishing, what agenda? >> in fact, the president ran a campaign designed to defeat mitt romney, not give him real momentum going forward. those of us think there's entirely too much trust in government, if we drain the reservoir the trust. >> we played in the open, michele bachmann raising the specter of impeachment. >> that's silly. republicans can't be blamed saying that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. there's a crisis of confidence. they're the political party that exists to say that government is necessary, but always a danger. >> even the national review had
an editorial, scandal is no agenda. one of the terrible things this past week was to see, again, how it's on struktsing the appointees to run a functional government. the administration is floundering because they allowed weapons of maz distraction to dominate because they haven't found their core issue. people will be distracted by the scandals. i think jobs, where is the job creation? where is the action on guns? these are focuses of administration that knows what it wants to do in the second administration. >> i'm not sure on immigration. that's a big problem on the house. the senate thinks it's moving guard. there is no real agenda here and
time is running out. the president had some meetings with top advisers after the election. he has about a year. it's june. half of that year is almost up. >> push back on one thing, with all due respect, i don't think it's a good thing whether you're a republican or democrat, that the public has lost faith in the government. what is happening in this country, more and more, people are looking outside of government for their own work arounds around the fed rattle government. i had to get away from washington to go to boston to talk to my len yals. the best and brightest in harvard, in suburban virginia, a high-level of civic engagement, they don't trust government. the next generation is staying out of government. >> big government, the best
construction on the irs scandal is big government is impossible to monitor. that's the lesson of this. >> but any government has to be trusted. >> any government has to be trusted. the bigger the government gets, the bigger distrust it gets. >> we're seeing an intent a dismantle tle to a positive agenda. >> we're out of time. thank you all very much. katrina is going to stick around to answer your questions for the web extra. check it out at abcnews.com/this week. some of the best commencement speeches, including stephen colbert yesterday. >> tweeting you're buying.
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have the security you need to get you there. call us. we can show you how at&t solutions can help you do what you do... even better. ♪ sunday spotlight is next. first, a look at president's tough week on late night. >> president obama held a joint press conference with the prime minister with turkey. why turkey? i'm not sure. those are probably the only sandwiches that his wife lets him eat. >> he denied that he knew about the report irs increased scrutiny of conservative groups. nothing to worry about, america. a bunch of stuff happening that the president doesn't know about it. all business purchases.
and in today's sunday spotlight, the toughest speaking gig of all, what to tell graduates as they squirm in their seats, itching for those diplomas. watch how a few speakers handled the assignment oprah was demoted from her first job as a news anchor. now, she doesn't even need a last name. and then there's this guy,
barack obama, he lost his first race for congress and now he gets to call himself my husband. >> it may seem that's all left for you unpaid internships, monday to tuesday mail delivery and thanks to global warming some semester at sea will mean sailing the coast of ohio. [ laughter ] . . >> a lot of work like mine, for example, if you're trying to please everybody by playing it safe, you're not playing up to your full potential. >> this whole thing comes down in the end to whether we think the future will be better if we face it with open hands or closed fists. >> as i was driving into the airport i was just looking at the lovely hills, honestly, i wanted to step out of the car and walk over to a grassy noll and make my signature turn from
the "sound of music." ♪ ♪ i bet you wonder how i knew about your plans to make me blue ♪ you only live one life. don't spend it in safe, shallow water. launch out. into the deep. >> many of you might be thinking, right now, about which leadership position you plan to obtain when you leave here. hopefully, not mine. at least not for a while, okay? okay? >> as you go forward, please consider the special place of public service in the history of this nation. and make some history yourselves. congratulations. [ applause ] >> our congratulations to every one in the class of 2013. now, we honor our fellow
americans who serve and sacrifice. this week, the pentagon released the names of four soldiers killed in afghanistan. and this's all for us today. thank you for sharing part of your sunday with us. check out "world news" with david muir tonight and i'll see you tomorrow morning on "good morning america."
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